TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Tuesday sharply criticized new U.S. sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader and other top officials, saying the measures spell the “permanent closure” for diplomacy between the two nations. For his part, Iran’s president described the White House as “afflicted by mental retardation.”
President Hassan Rouhani went on to call the sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “outrageous and idiotic,” especially as the 80-year-old Shiite cleric has no plans to ever travel to the United States.
From Israel, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said talks with the U.S. were still possible and that the U.S. is leaving an “open door” for Iran to walk through.
But the comments from Tehran clearly showed its leaders think otherwise at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran over its nuclear program and Iran’s downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone last week.
“The fruitless sanctions on Iran’s leadership and the chief of Iranian diplomacy mean the permanent closure of the road of diplomacy with the frustrated U.S. administration,” said Abbas Mousavi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
The crisis gripping the Middle East is rooted in Trump withdrawing the U.S. a year ago from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and imposing crippling new sanctions on Tehran. Recently, Iran quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium to be on pace to break one of the deal’s terms by next week while also threatening to raise enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels on July 7 — if Europe doesn’t offer a new deal.
Citing unspecified Iranian threats, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, 40 years after the Islamic Revolution.
President Donald Trump enacted the new sanctions on Monday against Khamenei and his associates.
The sanctions follow Iran’s downing last week of a U.S. surveillance drone, worth over $100 million, over the Strait of Hormuz, an attack that sharply escalated the crisis in the Persian Gulf. After the downing of the drone, Trump pulled back from the brink of retaliatory military strikes but continued his pressure campaign against Iran.
U.S. officials also said they plan sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, something that drew Rouhani’s anger during his televised address on Tuesday.
“You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks,” an exasperated Rouhani said and called the sanctions “outrageous and idiotic.”
“The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do,” Rouhani added.
There was no immediate reaction from Washington early on Tuesday to the remarks from Iran. The sharp comments are reminiscent of North Korea’s verbal attacks on Trump before the dramatic change in course and the start of negotiations with Washington. However, in Iran’s case, there are no signs Iranian leadership would welcome talks.
Mousavi’s statement echoed that of Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, who warned on Monday that the situation in the Persian Gulf is “very dangerous” and said any talks with the U.S. are impossible in the face of escalating sanctions and intimidation. Meanwhile, the U.S. envoy at the United Nations, Jonathan Cohen, said the Trump administration’s aim is to get Tehran back to negotiations.
The sanctions were announced as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks in the Middle East with officials in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about building a broad, global coalition that includes Asian and European countries to counter Iran. Pompeo is likely to face a tough sell in Europe and Asia, particularly from those nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Trump was open to real negotiations to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program and “all that Iran needs to do is walk through that open door.”
Bolton was meeting with his Russian and Israel counterparts in a first-of-its-kind trilateral security summit in Jerusalem that was focused on Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region, particularly in neighboring Syria.
“As we speak, American diplomatic representatives are surging across the Middle East, seeking a path to peace. In response, Iran’s silence has been deafening,” he said. “There is simply no evidence that Iran has made the strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons and open realistic discussions to demonstrate that decision.”
Associated Press writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem continued to this report.